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Meet Robert Kennedy Jr. in Atlanta for 'Trace Amounts' screening Thursday March 12

By RODNEY HO/, originally filed Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Environmental activist Robert Kennedy Jr. will be at Atlantic Station Regal Cinema Thursday at 7:30 p.m. to screen a controversial film "Trace Amounts" that ties a vaccine preservative Thimerosal to the sharp rise in autism cases over the last two decades.

Why is this controversial? Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thimerosal does not cause neurological diseases, citing multiple medical studies. This is after the agency first recommended in 1999 that pharmaceutical companies take the mercury-based preservative out of child-based vaccines as a precaution. The CDC has also has publicly that since most childhood vaccines no longer have Thimerosal in them, why are autism cases still rising?

Eric Gladen, an engineer who suffered from mercury poisoning after a tetanus shot in 2004, embarked on a multi-year journey to find out what happened and why, sifting through dozens of medical studies that go back decades. This led to the movie, which has been years in the making. "My primary objective with this film is to elevate the perception of mercury as a neurotoxin," he said, that's far worse than lead.

You can buy tickets here to see the film. You'll also get a copy of Kennedy's book "Thimerosal: Let the Science Speak." In the book, Kennedy says ethyl mercury — a component of thimerosal — is dangerous, even in small doses, something which the CDC denies. "There is no safe level of mercury," Kennedy says.

Gladen said he isn't anti-vaccine, something he notes up front in the film. He just wants Thimerosal out of all vaccines. He said in 2003, inexplicably, the CDC began recommending a flu vaccine with Thimerosal in it not only to infants but also to pregnant woman. "Thimerosal is hitting those least able to excrete it," he said. He said this is causing autism rates to rise although most vaccines are safe.

His conclusion: "This turned from gross negligence to a crime against humanity. This is not a conspiracy. This is real. I looked at the emails, the closed-door meeting transcripts... The CDC needs to be on the hot seat. They need to answer to this."

Autism trace amounts

Kennedy, in a separate interview, expressed his concerns in even more grandiose terms: "The CDC is a captive agency. The vaccine agency has become a subsidiary of big pharma. Vaccines are a $30 billion industry, an increasing profit center. They have been able to compromise all checks and balances that once protected children."

He has used his Kennedy name and his reputation as an environmental vanguard to try to convince politicians to act. According to a Washington Post story last year, he's had a tough time gaining traction. But he's not giving up.

"Show me a single study showing Thimerasol is safe. I will publicly apologize. I will cease advocacy on the issue," he said.

Why would pharmaceutical companies use Thimerasol if it even has a whiff of problems? "It's cheaper," he said. "And for these companies, there are no consequences."

One argument about autism: it's merely going up because it's getting diagnosed as such. Kennedy counters: "How many 30 year olds do you know have autism?" he said. "Where are they? Wouldn't they have been diagnosed, too?" He said one study in Stanford said diagnosis may have only 20 percent to do with the increase.

He thinks the mass media has not given this subject a fair hearing, noting that pharmaceutical companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year advertising online, TV, radio and print.

"I think this film will make a difference," Kennedy said. A highlight in his mind: Bill Thompson, a former CDC scientist in the vaccine safety research division, in the film admitting to changing data to fit a storyline that the CDC wanted.

The CDC responded to this story after I posted with emailed answers from Dr. Frank Destefano, Director of the Immunization Safety Office. Here they are verbatim:

  • How do you respond to allegations in the film that the CDC went out of its way to create studies that say Thimerasol does not create autism when some experts say that isn't the case?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) places a high priority on vaccine safety. CDC’s Immunization Safety Office focuses on monitoring the safety of vaccines licensed and approved for use in the United States.

CDC has conducted and supported extensive research to evaluate vaccines and neurodevelopmental outcomes such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The findings of that research do not support a causal association between thimerosal and ASD. For a summary of CDC’s research on vaccine safety and ASD, please visit:

In addition to CDC’s research on vaccines and ASD, other researchers around the world have studied the safety of thimerosal-containing vaccines. The scientific community is in agreement: vaccines do not cause ASD.

  • After recommending that vaccines for children have Thimerasol taken out in 1999 as a precaution, why did you allow to bring it back years later in a flu vaccine given to kids?

In July 1999, the Public Health Service agencies, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and vaccine manufacturers agreed that thimerosal should be reduced or eliminated in vaccines as a precautionary measure. Since 2001, no new vaccine licensed by FDA for use in children has contained thimerosal as a preservative except for multidose vial preparations of influenza vaccine. There are also other types of flu vaccines available which do not contain thimerosal. For more information about thimerosal, please visit:


  • There has been a huge increase in autism cases over the past 20-25 years. Has the CDC found a cause? And is mercury a contributing factor?

Estimates released in 2014 from CDC's Autism Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network found that about 1 in 68 children born in 2002 have an ASD. This is higher than estimates from the early 1990s. It is unclear how much of this increase over time is due to a broader definition of ASD and better efforts in diagnosis. However, a true increase in the number of people with ASD cannot be ruled out. The increase in ASD is likely due to a combination of these factors.

We do not know all of the causes of ASD. However, we have learned that there are likely many causes for multiple types of ASD. There may be many different factors that make a child more likely to have an ASD, including environmental, biologic and genetic factors.

Many studies have looked at whether there is a relationship between vaccines and ASD. Research continues to show that vaccines are not associated with ASD.

Thimerosal is a mercury-containing preservative used in some vaccines and other products since the 1930's. There is no convincing evidence of harm caused by the low doses of thimerosal in vaccines, except for minor reactions like redness and swelling at the injection site.

Thimerosal has been out of nearly all routinely recommended childhood vaccines (except some flu vaccines), but the prevalence of ASD has continued to increase.  This provides strong evidence that thimerosal does not cause ASD.


  • Is ethyl mercury (in Thimerasol) safer than methyl mercury?

Thimerosal is a mercury-containing organic compound and has been used for decades in the United States and other countries. It has been used as a preservative in a number of biological and drug products, including many vaccines, to help prevent potentially life threatening contamination with harmful microbes.

It is important to understand the difference between two different compounds that contain mercury: ethylmercury and methylmercury. They are totally different materials.

Methylmercury is formed in the environment when mercury metal is present. If this material is found in the body, it is usually the result of eating some types of fish or other food. High amounts of methylmercury can harm the nervous system. This has been found in studies of some populations that have long-term exposure to methylmercury in foods at levels that are far higher than the U.S. population. In the United States, federal guidelines keep as much methylmercury as possible out of the environment and food, but over a lifetime, everyone is exposed to some methylmercury.

Ethylmercury is formed when the body breaks down thimerosal. The body uses ethylmercury differently than methylmercury; ethylmercury is broken down and clears out of the blood more quickly.  Low-level ethylmercury exposures from vaccines are very different from long-term methylmercury exposures, since the ethylmercury does not stay in the body.


  • Robert Kennedy believes the CDC is in bed with the big pharmaceutical companies to ensure their vaccines are used for big profits. How do you respond to that?

CDC’s mission and commitment is to protect the health and safety of the American people.

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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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